Visual art has a way of making us see the world in a new way. The blurry recapitulations of reality by Van Gogh and Pissarro have always been my favorites. But in the past, I thought I could not properly enjoy them. The intellectual discussions surrounding these versions of “high” art were off-putting because I thought I needed an advanced art degree to enjoy these pieces of culture. The question behind my doubts was, “How am I, an average human, supposed to enjoy art that is above my pay grade?” Maybe you have felt the same way. But—despite our inclinations—appreciating art is deeply intuitive. We can apply three steps we take every day to the appreciation of any art piece, no matter how out of reach it seems. To appreciate art, we should recognize beauty, field subjectivity, and admire talent.
We recognize beauty on a regular basis. We acknowledge the amazing sunsets, the bright flowers, and the streaks of purple in the sky at dawn. Recognizing the beauty in art is the first step to appreciating it. This step requires us to walk up to a painting and to ask, “What do I find beautiful about this?” Most art is made for us to enjoy and recognize the beauty echoed within in it.
Fielding subjectivity is when we allow our emotions to guide our experience. Whether we recognize this or not, this step is inherent within our first step of recognizing beauty and is inherent in most of our evaluations of any art form, but during this second step, we make our underlying subjective feelings explicit. Most art was made to invoke a certain reaction in the spectator. Asking the three questions of “How does this make me feel?” “Why?” and “What does the creator wish to convey?” will help us realize why we may find a certain painting beautiful or ugly. These questions may also help us discover an artist’s strengths or weaknesses in eliciting a reaction from us. A great piece of art can make us feel deeply, and these feelings are usually linked to the artist’s skills.
Contrary to popular opinion on modern art, most “high” art is not classified as such because anyone could simply do what the artist has done. Even if we do not like a specific painting, we need to appreciate that the painting required talent, hard work, and a different perspective. We do this all the time with popular artists. We know a skillful singer when we hear one even if we do not like his or her music. Admiring talent causes us to see past our subjective experiences to the work it took to create the piece of art.
Utilizing all three steps, we can appreciate any art form by recognizing beauty, fielding subjectivity, and admiring talent. We do not need to study art history for four years to know what constitutes beautiful and good art. However, once you dive into art, you might find that the more nuanced discussions are more interesting and even more helpful for appreciating art.